Poder Nadar Es Bueno En Este Empleo

‘To Be Able To Swim Is Good In This Job’ is a translation of what I wanted the Spanish to say. To this day I have never actually checked whether this is right. I was relying on my GCSE Spanish then, and nothing I learned from then until now has told me otherwise. Let’s keep it casual, shall we?

Poder Nadar Blah Blah is an organic (read: unplanned) instrumental, one of many many songs I wrote over the years by playing an open E major chord on the guitar and sliding up and down the guitar neck to make blue-ish sounds. It starts relatively well, gets a bit boring, and then peters out towards the end. A progression many of us will come to know very well, I imagine.

I used to listen to it a lot while walking or on the bus, probably for two reasons:

1 – it’s boring enough to work well as background music. Nothing to really concentrate on – just soft, glossy sounds, thick textures, and a level of emotion that can be accurately depicted with the use of a hyphen:         –

2 – the fact that I don’t sing lends it an air of professionalism, despite the numerous messy moments and lack of real musical intrigue. Until I learnt, very late on, how to use my voice in recordings, the singing was always the single detail that made my songs sound like the work of a hobbyist, not a real, proper musician. Listening to instrumentals like this or Imminent Death And Bubbles allowed me to escape from the prison of my own voice box.

But, as I’ve mentioned before, these vague non-substantial efforts don’t stand the test of time. They exist in my memory like weak sighs, like my past self was never really trying to be anything when he made them. I prefer the anguished cries of my over-dramatic, under-worked songs because I can hear the ambition behind the shit.

Real life memory: my friend, the bassist in my school band, once told me he liked the bit in the middle, starting 1.47, and that it sounded ‘a bit like Gershwin’. After nodding confidently but modestly, I went home to look up Gershwin and was pretty happy with that comparison. Basically I just play a few dissonant notes on the bass over some chords. It’s not jazz, it’s not Gershwin. It does sound nice though, I’ll stand by that.

I also remember exactly where I was standing in the kitchen when I played my parents the song, and which speakers I played it on, as my Dad made dinner. I don’t know exactly what his comment was, but I know it was weakly negative – an elaborate ‘meh’. I think this stuck in my mind because it was a clear example of that moment when the bubble of self-congratulation you can become stuck in while creating anything bursts. I had become convinced, I think, that Poder Nadar was a great leap forwards. Maybe it was, in my quest to become the World’s Premier Elevator Music Composer.

 

In The Corner

The chronological order of these songs is for some reason becoming increasingly hard at the moment. Once again, I began writing with eager fingers, ready to type the words ‘Middle Era’ in a welcoming fashion, perhaps with fancy formatting like this:

Welcome to The Middle Era.

Instead I’ve spent the last hour desperately trying to muddle my way through this blended 2008-2009 world, relying on my infamously unreliable memory, my dodgy, untrustworthy document ambitiously titled ‘Discography’, and certain musical clues in songs like: How shit is it? And, to what extent does the singer sound like an annoying 15 year old?

My heart and my head both tell me that In The Corner was probably written before most of the last 6 or so songs I posted. But the rest of my body is sitting comfortably, knowing I’ll never have the dedication nor research skill to definitively prove this is the case.

So, In The Corner will sit here awkwardly, camouflaged in its 2nd verse strings and extra percussion, which were almost definitely added months later, thereby causing Mass Chronological Confusion.

Anyway, the song itself:

In The Corner was a big one. One of my most successful pop songs, I thought at the time. It is catchy, no doubt…

When I listen to it, I think of the disgusting blue t-shirt I was wearing as my band played Battle of the Bands. It was our first gig, we brought loads of friends, we won, and I’m pretty sure we played In The Corner as our last song. It’s an extremely happy memory – one of the times where being in a band really does feel like the most fun thing in the world. A memory which is only slightly tainted by how much I dislike the song now.

But I do dislike it. There’s something so annoyingly naive about it. The lyrics all about being friends, the sickly sweet melody, sung sickeningly badly by myself. The acoustic guitar, the bouncy bass line, with the top string clearly out of tune. The drum groove stolen from Easy by Lionel Richie (ok I actually quite like that bit). The Lighthouse Family style strings. The ‘oh oh oh oh oh oh’ bits in the chorus. I imagine my friends in the band thinking fuckin ‘ell not this one again. Being embarrassed at me croaking it out each time. I assume really they were none the wiser. But the whole thing does seem a bit lame. We played this song for a long time in the band. GUYS. WAKE UP. BE A BIT MORE OFFENSIVE FOR CHRIST’S SAKE.

As a side note, I don’t think I’ve mentioned yet that my first collection of my own songs on iTunes was called ‘Invasion’. Haha. Then it later graduated and became ‘Quick, Invasion!’ which is awfully emo. We’re still in the ‘Quick, Invasion!’ phase here. But just think of that phrase and then In The Corner playing in the background. It’s hilariously inappropriate. I spent so long unsure of what I wanted my music to actually sound like. And it’s a million miles away from In The Corner.

What A Shame

This song slipped through the radar, probably because its more recent version, helpfully entitled ‘What A Shame New’, was created in 2008. The original, however, was written in 2007, and it shows. It shows so much that I can’t understand why I chose to go over it again. And, given that I did go over it again, why did I do so little with it? Actually, come to think of it, did I make it worse?

Yeah, comparing them right now, I think I did.

The newer one is better only in the sense that it has fewer actual mistakes. The singing is marginally better. But the mix is much worse; the earlier one sounds rougher and edgier, like the whole thing is coming out of a shit guitar amp. My voice has an earnest aggression to it which suits the lofi amateurish noise of the recording. The newer one is muddy and bassy, flat, uninspiring, boring.

Both versions have my characteristically nonsensical lyrics from the aged 14-15 era. They’re just terrible, I mean the comical lines:

‘You’re looking at the man in the crowd
Who without a sound
Keeps everyone’s head down.
Maybe it’s his gun’

are kind of stupid but yeah ok maybe it’s a joke song let’s give this guy a chance. But then we get to the bridge:

‘What a shame I could not stay
All alone I’ll be afraid
Why work when you’ve got time?
You should come and see one of mine’

What am I trying to say? As always, just throwing words together at random. It must be the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ fault.

I can’t think of a single biographical thing to say about this song. It summons no memories for me, beyond the fact that I re-recorded some it completely pointlessly. I perhaps remember a vague feeling of hope: ‘yeah… maybe if the drums are played more tightly… and the harmonies are sung better… we could have something…’ And then an inevitable small but numbing disappointment when the song remained the same old dead horse.

It’s amusing because after the last few songs I had begun to think that my past self had turned a corner. I had planned to include in this post the declaration that we had firmly reached the middle era of my music, and that a touch of professionalism would start to creep in from now. Well, the thought is banished.

What a shame.

 

NB: I have run out of space on my Soundcloud (almost 50 songs… and we’ve got nowhere). Songs will now be posted as basic YouTube videos.

NB2: the guitar in What A Shame sounds like the guitar in this:

 

 

Bangin’ Beats Back From Botswana

At 1.29, you’re going to hear the word ‘yeah’ spoken by a young boy. I pitch-shifted the vocal up slightly, so he sounds younger than he was, but he was young nontheless – 8 years old.

I think it’s sweet and appropriate that this song has come up today. I saw this same boy (my cousin) yesterday at a family event, and he is in the midst of a post-GCSE summer paradise. Went to a festival last week, going to a festival next week, got some girl he’s maybe seeing (although it absolutely ISN’T a thing). And he’s a proper teenager, almost as tall as me (that isn’t an achievement), voice pretty much dropped, fully allowed to drink at these family occasions now. I remarked to him that over this year his progress from boy to Boy With Aspirations Of Being A Man can be succinctly summarised by that last point. A year ago he’d be allowed one glass of something, then people would take the piss and say he was drunk. Now he casually helps himself to a beer.

Anyway, this festival he’s going to is more like a 3 day rave. And they play drum n bass mainly. The alliteratively named Bangin’ Beats Back From Botswana is pretty much my only attempt at drum n bass, made 8 years ago, when I was my cousin’s age, and also listening to that genre. It feels like a long and very insignificant circle has been completed in the fabric of our lives.

Following on from What You Want (2) this is further evidence that electronic music was beginning to make its mark on me. 2008 was when everyone I knew got into dubstep, as it made its lumbering, disappointing journey from the underground

to the bright shiny world of the US of A.

We got into it around the middle stage – lots of wobbly bass and slightly comedic vocal samples:

Anyway, I still pretty much only approached electronic music production in a tongue in cheek way, as evidenced by BBBFB’s ridiculously ominous hook and that childish ‘yeah’. This was actually another song made with my friend from my band, in our sub group ‘Happy Happy Fun Twins’. But it’s actually quite fun, no? I mean it’s not cool or inventive, but it’s alright. If you like dance music, and you’ve seen how shit everything else has been on this list, you’d be pleasantly surprised, perhaps. I really like 1.53 when the song gets destroyed by that filter. It’s difficult to listen to, but it packs a punch. There are little moments of detail in the song that are almost certainly the result of my friend being there – he was always interested in small things like technique, and the perfection of each sound. Good interests to have.

I was more like LET’S FINISH IT AND SHOW OUR FRIENDS.

What You Want (2)

This is the second version of a song written in the same US trip as All Along. The first version exists, but is too similar to bother posting as well. So you’ll be delighted to know you’re listening to something with slightly better drum programming than I was actually capable of in Summer ’08.

Are you a ‘Death of the Author’ style critic? Are you all about close reading and intrinsic criticism? Or is it all about new-historicism? Is context inescapable and all-important, and do words mean nothing on a page in a vacuum?

The former type of person would say this about What You Want: its lyrics clearly form part of the most significant trope of all electronic music: sex. It’s man + woman promising each other sexual paradise, with driving, euphoric, hypnotic music accompanying and heightening the impact of this promise.

The latter would say this: yuck, is that his sister he’s singing to?

Yes it is. Being the most gifted and available female vocalist on my family holiday in America, I did indeed get my sister to sing the main ‘What you want’ hook in this song. It was my first foray into this sort of music, and I thought I should probably stick by the rulebook, lyrically. I then added in the reply, ‘I’ll give it’, to complete a harmonious and potentially incestuous picture.

Now, obviously, to me this wasn’t problematic. We were just playing dress up in song form, singing lyrics so bland they carry no real message. But there has always been a slight tension in showing people the song who might be able to spot who the two vocalists are. ‘Yes it is my sister.’ ‘No I don’t think it’s weird.’ ‘Yes I know it’s a good song, thank you.’

Anyway, biographical context aside, there is something fun about What You Want. It builds steadily until it becomes genuinely quite euphoric. The electronic production means there are no dodgy instrument moments. The repeated vocal samples mean there are no dodgy singing moments. I enjoy the predictability of it. You know that after every 8 or 16 bars, something else is going to come in.

It’s always made me think of a relaxed daytime beach bar, or a journey sometime in the late afternoon. Which is why I’ve attached a blurry picture of a boat sailing into the sunset. It’s a stock-image type of song, I think.

It never really felt that significant to me, at the time. I think it’s because I had no desire to make music like this when I was 16, nor did I listen to much music like it. But as I got older it grew on me. Vague memories a few years later of a friend walking round in circles to this song, a song with similar but better emotional rises:

whilst in another room a different intoxicated friend and I listened to What You Want on headphones and he told me how great he thought it was.

And then, only a few months ago, someone told me they had been in Newcastle at a friend’s flat when a song had come on the speakers. She was convinced she had heard it before so she asked him what it was. He said she definitely wouldn’t know. But she went over to check, and it was What You Want. He had downloaded it whilst it was still up on my original Soundcloud, which is astonishing given that it had less than 200 plays in total, and almost all of them must have been from friends and family.

So, it’s a song that is mildly good. And now that I do like music like this more, I guess it is potentially one of my favourites up until this point.

All Along

This is a big one. Potentially the catchiest real song I’ve ever written, All Along is a basic pop number which clocks in at a truly absurd 5 minutes 5 seconds. A big reason for this is the completely unnecessary 8 bars of filler at the end of each chorus. I can imagine I might have made a mistake with the length of the verse when recording the guitar, and then just decided to make all other instruments follow suit, rather than going to the huge effort of rerecording the take.

It’s interesting listening to it now, being absolutely aware that All Along is a pop song. I reckon I was in denial at the time, which might explain why I haven’t adhered to the typical 3.5 minute length limit for this genre. The song uses the 1-5-6-4 chord sequence, for god’s sake, the one made infamous by this video:

It’s pretty much impossible to write a melody which isn’t catchy over those chords, and All Along is no exception, especially because it’s so long you probably know the whole thing off by heart by the time it finishes.

In 2008 I was very much not listening to music that sounds like this, and the song was never really meant to exist in this state. I wrote it on a holiday in the US, and I originally conceived it as a kind of shiny happy sarcastic bitter number, with the music acting as a sickly backdrop to the lyrics, which repeated:

‘And it’s what I’ve been thinking all along,
You can’t survive without me, if I’m gone’

I was halfway through recording a demo when I realised it was going to upset my girlfriend. This genuinely happened. I changed the lyrics so that the second chorus would resolve all issues and create harmony for everyone everywhere:

‘And it’s what I’ve been thinking all along,
I can’t survive without you, if you’re gone’

ENTER LOVE SONG

Then came some bland verses about living and flying, and a bit of picked electric guitar in the 3rd verse that is EXACTLY the same as this: (I honestly don’t think I meant to copy it, I was shocked when I heard the song again later and realised what I’d done.)

But one line remained the same: ‘And I don’t know why I’m feeling so heavy’.

Sounds a bit like happy. But it just isn’t. ‘Heavy’ is not a word you associate with feelings of deep love. Your heart is not ‘heavy’ with love. It’s ‘heavy’ with dread. With regret. Sorrow. The best connotation it can possibly have is probably one to do with reluctance. ‘It is with a heavy heart that I deliver this message.’ ‘It is with a heavy heart that I break up with you.’

The sad truth is that my relationship with this girlfriend was on its way out, and I knew deep down that the fact I had thought I needed to change those lyrics was a sign itself. But the word ‘heavy’ remained – a slightly disconcerting pearl within a happy and over-sized clam.

The song wasn’t fully recorded until a year or two after it was written. Which is maybe why there’s a syncopated guitar riff in the last chorus which is actually a bit good. Also, there’s one moment in the song that I’ve always loved. It’s as I go into the second chorus:

‘We’ll find a way, to meet some daaayyy’

Is it just me or do I sing ‘daaay’ quite nicely? It’s almost like I gathered up the vocal chords and said look guys, we may never sing vibrato again, but just for this second, can you give me a tiny bit of it at the end of this word? Can you hear it? It’s subtle I know.

Anyway, terribly sung the rest of the time, as usual.

Imminent Death And Bubbles

An instrumental in two parts: Imminent Death, and Bubbles. The two parts are pretty similar, the chords remaining the same all the way through. It just gets slightly jumpy and echo-y for a while, as I play a guitar solo of sorts, and a blues bass riff. I thought it sounded like bubbles, I added Bubbles to the title, and the track was born.

It’s boring.

There’s a bit of dread there, but not enough to sustain your attention.

There’s a pedal note going through the whole song, which is something I like, but it isn’t enough to sustain your attention.

As in many other of my songs (to this day I am guilty of this), I have layered many tracks together, rather than compose something genuinely engaging on a single track, perhaps to conceal my inability to really ‘play’ ‘any’ ‘of’ ‘the’ ‘instruments’. The song is textured, but ultimately a bit boring. It doesn’t sustain your attention.

I think the song’s tone is infecting my writing. Finding it hard to be. Flowing and. funny.

Here is an example of the opposite of what I do in this and many other tracks:

There are essentially four clearly defined instrument parts, with a subtle pad coming in after the bridge in the middle. They just really work together. The production on each instrument is perfect, and the main synth melody is so catchy you want to hear it every time. The song goes on for almost 7 minutes! But it sustains your attention. Well, for me it does.

 

At 2.47 I do a drum fill which also appears a couple of times in this other song, one which sustains your attention quite effectively:
(2.47 could maybe be called the ‘climax’ of the song, in the same sense that a re-run of American Dad could be deemed ‘the greatest television moment of all time’.)

 

And finally, here’s Super Hans with the formula I was going for when writing Imminent Death And Bubbles: ‘the longer the note, the more dread’.

 

Lacking any real emotional contact with this song, any concrete memories to go along with it, or any real feelings of pride and/or dismay, I sneakily saturated this blog post with high-octane video content. I don’t know if you noticed, but it worked extremely well. This is a gimmick deployed by Buzzfeed, and the rest of the internet world. It is perhaps comparable to the abundance of ‘hooks’ in many of the catchiest pop songs. Features which GRAB and then SUSTAIN your attention.

LOOK BELOW FOR A FEW EXCITING AND SHOCKING EXAMPLES OF THIS: